I grew up with a love of animals. My father used to save birds that fell out of their nests and he would bring them in. As a child, I begged and begged and begged for a dog and we finally got one. She had puppies, twice. It was my joy to be around puppies. I didn’t get to keep them, but I found them all good homes. I interviewed everybody carefully before I gave away a dog.

Bernadette Peters with her dog Charlie
Bernadette Peters with her dog Charlie © Timothy O’Connell

Much later I was on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun, which won the Easter Bonnet competition – this rewards the show that raises the most money for a leading Aids charity. Me and my friend Mary Tyler Moore began to wonder who we could help next. I had just been at the city animal shelter and they really needed help because they were overflowing with animals – cages were stacked up on top of each other in the hallways. We got the idea to do an event in Shubert Alley on Broadway called Broadway Barks, where people could come and adopt a rescue animal. It’s been running for 25 years now. All the animals are there and they’re full of love, and all the people who want to adopt them come looking for someone to join their family. They’re kind of a little gift for humanity – they teach us things about love and how to love again, because they don’t live as long as we’d like them to.

Peters (centre) in Old Friends in the West End
Peters (centre) in Old Friends in the West End

I’m currently in London performing in Old Friends, a tribute to Stephen Sondheim, so Elaine Paige and I have organised a London version of Broadway Barks called West End Woofs & Meows this Saturday, which will feature members of the Old Friends cast.

I believe pets are creatures of elevation – they have an elevated consciousness that we aspire to. They understand so much more than we give them credit for. I went to Africa and watched a pride of lions and they’re so loving to each other and the family and the babies. You look at them and life becomes simpler.

The poster for Peters’s West End Woofs & Meows, a London edition of her Broadway Barks event to adopt rescue animals
The poster for Peters’s West End Woofs & Meows, a London edition of her Broadway Barks event to adopt rescue animals
Peters’s pitbull Rosalia
Peters’s pitbull Rosalia © Timothy O’Connell

This current show came about because the producer Cameron Mackintosh called me after Steve had passed saying that he wanted to do a benefit in London for Steve’s foundation. I had a dressing room with Dame Judi Dench and Petula Clark and Julia Mackenzie and Imelda Staunton and it was terrific, a real feeling of community. When Cameron mentioned that he’d like to put the show on for a longer run this year, I thought, “Well, I’d like to experience that again.” But the only reason I could agree to do it is because I have dear friends, a couple that come to live at my house with my dogs while I’m away. They won’t even go out at night – they’d rather spend time at home with the dogs. As told to Tim Auld

West End Woofs & Meows is at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London WC2, 10am-12.30pm on 18 November. Old Friends is at the Gielgud Theatre, London W1 (sondheimoldfriends.com), until 6 January

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